Last Updated: July 16th 2016
Whether your look is vintage Hollywood actor or more Killers front man Brandon Flowers, braces are a fundamental accessory which will help you express your personality and add a little something extra to your look, even keeping your trousers up along the way!
Braces come in various styles, the thickness of the straps vary wildly and while usually elastic you can also buy a pair in a solid fabric such as leather, you can also get your hands on any colour or pattern that takes your fancy.
I ask only 2 things of you:
- Firstly that they are finished with the traditional button fastenings, not the clips! A true gentleman would never wear clipped braces, it’s simply not the done thing (as my Aunt Maud tells me.)
- Secondly, never under any circumstances should you wear both belt and braces. As Henry Ford once said “How can you trust a man that wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.”
A true vintage pair may set you back anything from a thrifty £3.00 ($4.80) from a charity shop right up to £30 ($48.00) for a plaited leather pair with adjustable buckles. Check out Ebay or Etsy for a wealth of vintage braces and make sure you scour those thrift shops and charity shops along with car boot sales and vintage fairs and markets.
When buying vintage, undo and move the adjustable fixings as these have been known to rust and not fasten fully or leave rust stains on the elastic. If the current length is good for you and you don’t need to make any adjustments you may never see the rust marks but if you need to lengthen them you may be left with a rusty stain near your left nipple. Simply unsightly!
The History Of Braces
First invented in 1820 by Albert Thurston who incidentally still make them in their factory in Leicester, England, this is one gentleman’s accessory that has stood the test of time.
These accessories were originally designed to accompany the high waisted pants that were in fashion. These high pants were worn so high, belts could not hold them up! The suspenders designed by Thurston attached to the pants by leather loops, still being made today.
Suspenders were considered to be an undergarment, never to be seen in public. As a staple of every mans wardrobe throughout the 1920’s they lost favor during the 1930s as the waistcoats that used to cover this essential piece of ‘underwear’ were worn less. Not wanting to expose their intimates to all and sundry, men promptly switched to belts and herein we see the demise in the braces’ popularity.
Visible suspenders were risqué; in 1938 a town in Long Island, NY tried to ban gentleman from wearing them without a coat. The town called this risky move a “sartorial indecency.” The ban was overturned after residents complained.
Slowly, even after the waistcoat was worn less often, pants were fashioned to start sitting lower meaning suspenders began to fade more. However, they didn’t completely disappear. Doctors in the late 1920s recommended suspenders to patients with larger stomachs. Actors, like Humphrey Bogart and Ralph Richardson both wore them. Richardson even bought six pairs when World War II broke out in anticipation of fabric rations.
Post World War II Style
The 1960’s brought back braces in pop-culture. They can be spotted in the movie A Clockwork Orange, worn by famous hooligan, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm MacDowell). The British skinheads adopted suspenders into their working-class look. They can be seen attached to blue jeans that didn’t need help staying up.
The movie Annie Hall even brought around braces being worn by working women who wanted a more “unisex” look. Note: In Britain, suspenders refer to the undergarment holding up ladies stockings.
People Magazine released an article in 1986 recommending that “fashion-forward teens” wear their suspenders hanging from their waist, not worn on their shoulders. Movies in the late 1980s also began to associate suspenders with wealth while TV gave suspenders a different vibe: the nerd.
Modern Revival of Braces
While braces were mostly absent from wardrobes in the 1990s and early 2000s, they could still be seen in the Punk and Grunge scenes. More recently, hip-hop style icon Fonzworth Bentley popularized the preppy dandy look in pop-culture. This look has also pushed for a fascination with early 20th century culture. Men are looking towards the dandy style of the early 1900s for inspiration for their wardrobe and lifestyle. More speakeasy themed bars, mustaches and, of course, braces are being seen.
Now that they’re back in a big way, I want to show you how to turn an ordinary pair of trousers into one that can provide you with multifunctional wear, with or without braces!
Not sure how to wear braces? Skip down to our guide for how to put them on. Do you already know how to put them on and are ready to retrofit your trousers? Jump ahead, it’s easier than you think! If you’ve handled a needle before then we’re half way there, just follow these simple instructions and we’ll have you looking like a spiffing gent in no time.
Step-By-Step Guide: How To Buy Braces & Retrofit Your Own Trousers For Braces / Suspenders
A Bit About Buttons
These can be attached to the inside or the outside of the trousers. When waistcoats were an everyday item they were sewn to the outside as they were covered by the said waistcoat. As waistcoats became unpopular as mentioned above the buttons were moved to the inside.
It’s popular opinion that having buttons on the inside is more formal so if you’re adding them to a pair of Pantaloon De Nimes (that’s jeans to you) feel free to add them to the outside. Also if you have some lovely vintage bakelite buttons or some contrasting coloured ones, you may wish to use them to make a statement and sew these to the outside. For today’s exercise we’re adding them to the inside.
As the buttons are going to be attached to the inside of the trousers, they don’t need to match but they do need to be big enough to keep the fastening attached and small enough to comfortably pass through the buttonhole on the leather end of your braces, choose something around 20mm (0.87″) wide.
There are 2 main shapes, the X shape which has 2 fastenings at the front and 2 fastenings at the back which should be attached at equal distances to ensure an even pull and the Y shape. The vast majority of new and vintage braces are Y shaped, with a single center fastening at the back and 2 fastenings at the front, so that’s what we’re concentrating on here.
Button Placement For Your Braces
If you look around on the interweb wotsit you’ll see various references to where buttons should be placed; this far away from a pleat, that far away from a belt loop etc. However, this doesn’t take into consideration the size of your waist, your stomach, or the width of your shoulders! And in my humble opinion, it’s better to make an aesthetically pleasing fixing rather than a technically correct one. If you can reach both, great! but if you’re a strapping chap with wide shoulders and a small waist or a portly gent as wide as you are tall, technically correct fixings may not work for you.
My advice would always be to pop them on and take a butchers (look for the non-British) in a mirror. If they look okay, then you’re on to a winner!
The braces should come up the center of your back, pass comfortably over your shoulders and sit in a straight line down your front until they meet the waistband of your chosen trousers.
Buying Vintage Braces – Length Is Key!
When buying vintage braces make sure that they are long enough for you! In the past trousers had a higher rise than modern trousers meaning that the braces didn’t need to be quite so long! If you are a shorter chap, this may not be a problem for you, but the heightier among us, may struggle as attaching a shorter pair of braces to a trouser with a lower rise may result in the dreaded wedgie, front and back! and nobody wants to see that! So, when buying vintage braces either try them on for size or if buying online ask the seller to measure the fully extended length (not the stretched length, the length when the clasps are open and they are fully extended) That way if they are longer than you need you can make them shorter but you know that you won’t be able to make them any longer!
A Note About Waistbands
This method will only work on a fully finished waistband, i.e. one that is sewn in and attached fully around the inside of the trousers. If your trousers have a waistband that is simply sewn on and folded to the inside but left lose, this will not work as the braces when attached will simply pull the folded in waistband up and out for all to see. What would Aunt Maud say!?
If your trousers have a waistband like this I would recommend that you either sew the buttons to the inside with a thread the exact colour of your chosen trousers which will give you a more formal look but with 6 small patches of sewing viewable on the outside, or sew them to the outside, again, sewing all the way through the waistband for security.
Fully fixed waistbands are made up of 2 or 3 layers of fabric: the outer fabric, a lining or stiffener and an inner fabric. There is a new trend for the inner fabric to contrast with the rest of the garment, it may be a bright colour or a floral fabric. Personally I don’t understand this, while it may look appealing while on the hanger, who’s ever going to see it? The only person who may see it is that special person who’s managed to get their way into your boudoir and if while on their knees in front of your open fly, they become distracted from their amorous advances by a fancy inner waistband, it can only be a bad thing!
What You’ll Need
- A pair of leather ended button fastening braces
- 6 buttons
- Tape measure
- Pins, small stickers or tailors chalk
- Good lighting
- Miles Davis on the record player and a large Gin and Tonic (optional)
Lets Get Sewing!
Firstly, thread your needle with cotton that matches the colour of your trousers or the buttons. As it’s not going to be seen, it’s down to your own preference. I’m using red thread and white buttons simply so you have a clear image of what I’m doing.
Open the fly and lay your trousers on their back exposing the inner back seam and waistband. Now lay your buttons on the waistband about an inch or so either side of the back seam and in the middle of the depth of the waistband. (Fig 1) Happy with the placement of your buttons? Mark the placement with a pin, a small sticker or some tailors chalk and measure the distance from the middle seam to make sure they are equal.
Take your needle and thread and put the needle through the top inner layer of the waistband an inch or so away from the final button placement. Do not go right through to the other side as you will see the stitching.
Pull the needle through the top layer of fabric and out at the position of the button, losing the end of the thread just inside the fabric. Now sew a few small stitches to secure the thread (fig 2) now thread the button on to the needle and fix in place making sure you only catch that top layer of fabric. To secure the thread go back through the button and sew backward and forward through your stitching at the base of the button then through the top layer of fabric, coming out an inch or so away from the button and cut it. (fig 3)
Repeat this for the other side making sure the second button is a mirror image of the first (fig 4).
Now attach the end of your braces to your newly affixed buttons and pop your trousers on (you shouldn’t have been working in your underwear anyway, this is reserved solely for judges and members of the clergy, if this is you, continue as you were).
Pass the loose ends of the braces over your shoulders and make your way to the mirror taking 4 pins, some tailors chalk or 4 small stickers with you to mark the placement of your front buttons.
You’re aiming to get the straps straight down the front of your body while sitting comfortably on your shoulders (Fig 5) Make sure they are not too far apart or too close together (Fig 6 & 7).
Once you’re happy that you have this right (consult your other half, a friend or neighbour or passing Doctor) mark the placement of the buttons with your chalk, stickers or pins. Sew the buttons on the inside using the same technique as you did in the back and once you’ve done one side, make sure that you do the other side exactly the same, measuring the distance between the button and the nearest belt loop or seam for example.
And you’re done! Well done you! Slip your trousers on and enjoy your new look.
The Final Look
Dress it up with a fresh shirt and a bow tie or throw on a granddad shirt, a flat cap and some brogue boots and you’re away, vintage style!
Let us know how you get on by posting some pictures on one of our social profiles, or comment below.